When Smooth Jazz Came to Berkeley

One of the Many Versions of the KRE Radio Building in Berkeley, California

West Berkeley in the 1970s and 80s. The great avant-garde jazz station KRE is located at the south end of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park. We can see a small sign with a flickering light inside of it (as if the electric company is close to cutting off the power at the station or there are electrical problems) and a broadcasting tower for the station. It plays Trane and Tyner into the night. Almost a western embankment of Aquatic Park, I-580 and its ten lanes of traffic is runs the horizontal length of the 20” x 30” diorama.

Music of this period comes out from the run down little building on the south part of Aquatic Park. Inside the model for KRE comes this avant-garde jazz of this time: the 70s and 80s in Berkeley. The sound of KRE jazz. McCoy Tyner. John Coltrane. Wayne Shorter. Weather Report. Carlos Santana. (A cut from Santana’s 1973 Caravanerai album playing from KRE.)

On the north side of Aquatic Park, there is a large, modern building. Created in the trendy architectural style of the times. On the outside of the building, we can read a sign that says “KJAZ: The Quiet Storm.” Inside this model comes a different type of music from that of KRE at the south end of Aquatic Park. It is smooth jazz of Kenny G, Competing sounds via two Blue tooth speaker devices in both radio stations. Shoot a night scene using the two Litra Cubes with blue filters on them.

When Smooth Jazz Came to Berkeley  is a roughed out schematic of the project layout and key opposition symbols in it: the two radio stations and their music, north and south Berkeley represented by University and Ashby streets. Below, see the rough lighted sign model of KRE (called KTRC below) playing John Coltrane’s “Moment;s Notice” from the 1957 album Blue Trane. Shot against a background on our 32″ Omen HP computer monitor. Our object is not to create an accurate scale model of KRE but to simply show a dramatic contrast between two tyes of jazz represented in the two radio stations. An accurate model of KRE might be for another project.

* * *

When all is said and done, it is the ultimate purpose of this project to create a strong-link symbol (image and sound) of KRE in the Berkeley of the late 70s and early 80s. The effort to save KRE from the new encroaching KBLX and its “Quiet Storm” theme, all from an Eastern media syndicate that knew little about the music Berkeley was listening to.

It was a time that garnered a huge concert in Aquatic Park with Santana and others to save KRE.

There seems much reason why images and models for KRE come from the memory images one maintains. The concert to save KRE is modeled on the banks of Aquatic Park between KRE on the far right of the diorama and KBLX on the far-left side of the diorama. We can see small signs in the assembled crowd saying “Save KRE!” A band performs on a stage and from the music and other signs in the diorama we know it is Carlos Santana. Perhaps 50 to 100 figures in the crowd as things are just getting started.

Directly west of Aquatic Park, in the immediate foreground of the diorama, the ten-lane freeway. (If modeled in N scale could take in more of the surrounding landscape and environment and perhaps also model the edge of the Bay. However, HO scale on a 20” x 30” diorama allows for only modeling a section of the 580 Freeway.)

How to capture this moment in a diorama? And, the best scale to model it in. Large figures if a slice of scene (“wedgie” as it’s called in the world of diorama makers) is the best way to express the artistic vision. Or, small figures and a background to put more environment into the drama of the diorama. The question of scale to model in always seems to fluctuate depending if you wanted to model a small section or throw a larger canvass. Does one view the scene from a higher altitude? Or become a type of “embedded” reporter inside a part of a drama going on in the up-close, smaller things in the diorama?

As a basic plan, am setting out two boxes purchased from Hobby Lobby: a small box on the right with the KRE sign on it and a larger building on the left side of the diorama with KBLX sign on it. (Perhaps use the miniature neon programmed sign from Miller Engineering as sign on top of the building. This is going too far as office buildings do not have Las Vegas type of neon signs on top of them. But, to make the contrast as great as possible, perhaps this is effective as seen with the flickering tea candle light sign of KRE? A Miller Sign could be converted to feature KBLX radio.)

KRE Building in 1941

The diorama is modeled after a transition period in my own life. In the late 70s, I returned increasingly to an old love of mine, jazz. I wrote Spirit Catcher, a biography of John Coltrane in 1980 right after I left working for a big corporation in downtown San Francisco for five years. I was publishing a monthly newsletter called The Jazz Newsletter and was one of the original members of something new in San Francisco called Loft Jazz. Days I worked for the corporation in San Francisco and nights I listened to and recorded jazz in Berkeley.

I lived in Oakland and got to be friends with a number of people who worked for the radio station KRE in Berkeley. The music from the station introduced me to a new type of jazz I had not heard before in the big band music of my father or the rock of the 60s. It was the music of McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane. Through the 70s and 80s, my radio station in the Bay Area was KRE. There was no talk radio and its daily anger. Just jazz radio.

(Use two Anker speakers for both stations. $19.00 each and huge Amazon ratings on them)

The music of Tyner and Coltrane. I got to know Tony at KRE who was a late-night DJ at KRE and I would stop by the station and sit with Tony when he played new avant-garde jazz through the night.

So, like a lot of other people at the time, I was devastated when I heard that KRE AM was being sold to Inner City Broadcasting from the East and that it’s new call letters would be KBLX FM – “The Quiet Storm.” The transition in real life took place inside the KRE building and there was not another building at the opposite side of Aquatic Park that the diorama shows. For dramatic purposes (and, using dramatic “license”) I have created another building for KBLX. One of the reasons for this is so that smooth jazz (Kenny G) can come from the small Bluetooth cube inside the KBLX office. This music competes with Trane and Tyner coming from KRE on the other side of the diorama. Music at the same time? (Implied an omnipotent observer). Perhaps switch back and forth between the two types of music.

Both buildings have lighted signs on them. Perhaps on KBLX the programmed lights of one of the Miller Engineering signs I have now? The type on LV casinos and not announcing jazz radio stations. But then, KBLX was never a real jazz radio station. The “jazz” music it played was altogether different from the jazz played by KRE. An overall perspective on jazz in the 1970s is available from Wikipedia. Perhaps “India” plays from KRE off the 1961 Coltrane Village Vanguard Recordings IV album/tapes (In fact anything off the 61 Vanguard tapes might be blaring out of the Bluetooth speaker from the KRE model.

* * *

The contrast and change in jazz between avant-garde/spiritual jazz and smooth jazz is viewed in the juxtaposition of the two radio stations occupying two sides of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park. A major turning point in modern music. A turning point in my life. The commodification of jazz as a product targeted to a wealthier demographic outside the traditional jazz market. I –  like many others at the time – were witness to this change. It was exemplified perhaps in no better way than the takeover of KRE by KBLX.

Some of the original test jingles for the new KBLX  demonstrate the new business approach to jazz. By the announcer’s voice and themes, one can tell this new KBLX is a slick operation. Perhaps the best resource for developing this diorama is the California Historical Radio Society. The history of KRE is discussed with photos on a section of the society’s website. An excellent source for background facts.

KRE in the 90s and 2000s (One can see the KBLX sign on the left as the real KBLX was in the KRE building)



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